Gluten intolerance -- also known as celiac disease -- was once considered a rare condition, experienced mostly by children. However, it is becoming increasingly prevalent, with one in every 250 people battling the condition, according a study published in the December 2002 issue of the “American Family Physician.” Women are at greater risk of developing gluten intolerance than men, with twice as many women being diagnosed as men. However, with the proper course of treatment you can easily carry on a normal life.
Gluten is found in many of the grains you eat such as wheat, barley and rye. If you have a gluten intolerance, or celiac disease, your immune system damages the villi of your intestines when you eat gluten. These villi are an important part of digestion and help transport what you eat from one point to the next. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder resulting from a combination of genes and a trigger, such as frequent viral infections.
If you have gluten intolerance, you may experience fatigue, depression, seizures, numbness in your extremities, joint pain, canker sores and itchy skin rashes called dermatitis herpetiformis. Celiac disease may also cause iron-deficiency anemia and bone loss. However, men and women often experience different symptoms. Women are more likely to experience iron-deficiency anemia, and men are more likely to have low weight, dyspepsia and dermatitis herpetiformis.
Celiac and Pregnancy
Women with celiac disease who are undiagnosed at the time of pregnancy were more likely than the normal population to have low-birth-weight children, preterm births and births by cesarean. Women with celiac disease may be at an increased risk of infertility and spontaneous abortions, although more research is needed. If you have experienced fertility or pregnancy problems, you should consider being tested for celiac disease, as many women show no signs at all.
A gluten-free diet is the only treatment available for women with gluten intolerance. This means you will have to eliminate wheat, barley, rye and triticale from your diet. These sources of gluten can appear in unexpected places, such as French fries and bouillon cubes. Therefore, you should read every food label until you find a group of brands and foods that work for you. A consultation with a dietician will be very helpful in making these changes.